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Students intern at Cannes Film Festival

Meghan Thomassen | Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This story has been updated to accurately reflect the genesis of the idea for the documentary and the full list of organizations that provided grant funding. 

A team of eight Notre Dame film, television and theatre students lived a filmmaker’s dream this summer when they documented the Cannes International Film Festival as a part of the American Pavilion’s internship program.

Nicole Timmerman, a senior film, television and theatre major, was one of the students accepted into the American Pavilion’s program. She said after the group heard the news, film, television and theatre professor Aaron Magnan-Park came up with the idea to produce a documentary about the Cannes experience.

“Notre Dame professor and executive producer Aaron Magnan-Park was the central developer and producer for this documentary opportunity,” Timmerman said. “He came up with the idea behind the project after consulting various members of the American Pavilion staff, and spent several months knocking on every plausible door to find enough funding in order to make this idea a reality for eight lucky Notre Dame students and alumni.”

She said attending the premieres was the highlight of her Cannes experiences.

“We got to sit in a theater with Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy,” she said. “It was surreal.”

Collin Erker, a senior film, television and theatre major and arts and letters pre-health major, said the research and fundraising involved helped him understand what independent filmmaking is like.

“Very few people actually get to go there due to financial constraints,” Erker said. “We got to go and see the festival while creating a short documentary we feel the University can be proud of.”

The students went through the typical internship experience at the American Pavilion while they made their documentary.

“They taught us how to get the most out of our Cannes experiences. The key was networking,” he said. “You have you to put up your very best effort to meet different filmmakers and meet each other, since we’re all going into film.”

Erker said they worked 10- to 12-hour workdays on top of their regular internship activities.

“We definitely had a higher workload a lot of the other interns, but we all managed to work it out,” he said. “We still got to go to films, dress up and go out. We really did get to experience the city.”

The group also celebrated Erker’s birthday during the festival.

“It was a lot of fun being able to put on a tuxedo, go on the red carpet and see a French film, go to a nice French dinner and experience the Cannes nightlife,” he said. “I got to experience what the Cannes festival is all about, which is work hard, play hard. Seeing celebrities was [also] a lot of fun. Maybe one day I’ll be walking on the carpet in the same sort of fashion.”

Zuri Eshun, a junior film, theater and television major, said the group had to reach out to several organizations to get enough funding for the project.

“Just that experience [of] preparing to go made you realize how much goes into producing a film or a documentary,” Eshun said. “It makes you want to do it … Finally hearing that you have enough to go makes it all worth it.”

For Eshun, one of her favorite memories came on Erker’s birthday.

“We were eating desserts, and even in the midst of everything that was going on, even with all the shooting we had to do and staying up late and going to premieres and logging footage it felt like it was centered,” she said. “And it’s really hard to feel centered at Cannes, it was nice to feel like a center point at which you can feel at home on the French Riviera.”

Producing the documentary made Eshun more focused on her major and her career, she said.

“When you’re stressing about editing something and it’s 5 a.m. and you haven’t gotten anywhere, having done my own film, it kind of fuels the drive,” she said. “This is an actual industry that you can be successful in if you work hard. You have to love what you do to be successful in these majors.”

The team had a number of supporters at the University, including Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, the Nanovic Institute, the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Research, the Center for Creative Computing, the College of Arts and Letters, Campus Ministry, the First Year of Studies, Multicultural Student Programs and Services and the Film, Television and Theatre department.

“There were so many we can’t even keep track of them,” Erker said. “We owe thanks to a lot of these organizations.”

He said the film should be released soon on the American Pavilion website and will be part of their programming for future interns.

“The American Pavilion will be traveling to multiple colleges and universities across the US and will be showing the documentary to other filmmakers,” he said. “It allows interns to see what the Cannes experience is really like.”

The project helped spread Notre Dame’s name in the filmmaking world.

“We became known as that Notre Dame group,” he said. “[Among] all these other students from typical film universities, like USC and UCLA, they said, ‘Oh there’s a Notre Dame presence in the international film market?'”

Erker said the Cannes experience solidified his choice to enter into the entertainment industry.

“I knew I wanted to be in film or television in some aspect, but [I] have been too afraid to take the jump,” he said. “But now that I’ve had this Cannes experience I know people make it and get to have these great experiences in their life and I want to be a part of that.”